francuska  Francois Hollande.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MICHEL EULER / POOL MAXPPP OUT

Diplomats from nearly 30 countries were meeting in Paris on Friday to begin talks on peace in the Middle East

French President Francois Hollande said at the start of the talks that it was particularly important to find a peace agreement in the context of widespread extremism and conflict, a little more than two years after the last bid to broker a long-lasting truce collapsed.

"In the context of the Middle East, vacuums will necessarily be filled by extremists, and terrorists can also gain a foothold," Hollande said. He added that a peace process can only move forward with the support of the region's neighbours, but it would ultimately rely on the Israelis and Palestinians to take steps toward peace.

The French-led effort has been blasted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said that direct negotiations without preconditions are the only way to move forward in a conflict that has been the subject of repeated peace deal attempts over the decades.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has called for parameters like a stricter timetable for the implementation of any agreements.

He also expressed scepticism about the outcome of direct bilateral talks with Israel. "We have been talking with the Israelis for 20 years and nothing has been achieved," Hamdallah said last month.

Yet observers have expressed tentative optimism about the latest efforts spearheaded by the French, if only because the aims have been kept so modest.

Diplomats at the French Foreign Ministry have said the goal is simply to begin a process that will bring everyone back to the table by the end of the year, underscoring that the role of France is only as a facilitator. The diplomats were not authorized to be named.

Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who travelled recently to meet with Netanyahu and Palestinian leaders, has also stressed the "disinterested" position of France, while saying that the deteriorating security situation puts the prospect of peace further at risk.

Speaking to newspaper Le Monde on the eve of the talks, Ayrault said he hopes for two outcomes of Friday's conference: a confirmation of the perspective of getting all parties to the table before the end of the year, and the launch of working groups.

"The two-state solution, one Israeli state and one Palestinian state, living side by side, in peace and security, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, that has always been the position of France," Ayrault told Le Monde.

Palestinians have launched scores of deadly knife attacks against Israelis since October, protesting the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as perceived violations - denied by Israel - at a disputed Jerusalem holy site.

UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon attended Friday's meeting, alongside US Secretary of State John Kerry, Arab League Secretary General Nabil El-Araby, the European Union's top diplomat Federica Mogherini and representatives from all member countries of the UN Security Council as well as European, Arab, African and Asian countries.

Latest news

Trump-style rhetoric is making world more dangerous, Amnesty says

Divisive and "poisonous" language used by politicians such as US President Donald Trump is putting vulnerable populations at risk and making the whole world a more dangerous place, Amnesty International charged on Wednesday.

Canada soon to begin resettling Iraqi refugees, most of them Yezidis

Canada will resettle 1,200 survivors of the Islamic State campaign to target religious minorities in northern Iraq, Canadian officials announced Tuesday. 

Breitbart editor resigns after release of paedophilia comments

Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial editor at the far-right Breitbart news website, resigned Tuesday after the emergence of recordings in which he appears to defend sexual relationships between young boys and older men.

Trump administration opens door for mass deportations

The US Department of Homeland Security laid the groundwork Tuesday for mass deportations of immigrants living illegally in the United States under an executive order by President Donald Trump last month.

Brexit bill: House of Lords says public can change mind on leaving EU

The British public should be able to change their minds on Brexit - just as Prime Minister Theresa May did, the upper chamber of parliament heard Tuesday during a marathon debate on legislation to kick off EU negotiations.

Italian lawmakers, rights activists clash over gay sex club scandal

Gay rights activists and conservative politicians clashed Tuesday after the chief of Italy's anti-discrimination office quit over allegations that money had been authorized for gay sex clubs.

EU countries agree new rules to avoid tax evasion

European Union finance ministers in Brussels on Tuesday reached a political agreement on new rules to ensure that multinational corporations do not declare profits in the countries where they pay the least tax but in the countries where they generate it.

Trump condemns "horrible, painful" anti-Jewish incidents

US President Donald Trump condemned a recent spate of threats against Jewish community targets across the United States, during a visit Tuesday to the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

FinMin expects Croatia to exit Excessive Deficit Procedure this spring

Finance Minister Zdravko Maric said on Tuesday Croatia could exit the Excessive Deficit Procedure this spring and that it was showing progress in correcting macroeconomic imbalances.

Austria seeks to create jobs, but new EU immigrants need not apply

Austria plans to create 160,000 jobs in the next three years by subsidizing companies, but the project has raised concerns because it effectively excludes people who recently immigrated from other EU countries.

Juncker: Not good for W. Balkans that some in Washington want to water down EU

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday it was not good for Western Balkan countries that some people in the new US administration gave the impression of being against the European Union because those countries needed the prospects of EU membership.

Citizens invited to help create Croatian version of Monopoly

A project to create a Croatian edition of Monopoly, in which citizens can participate by submitting proposals and which could become a souvenir for tourists, was presented at a press conference on Tuesday.

German state approves full-face veil ban

Legislation that bans face veils in select public spaces and situations was agreed by the government of the southeastern German state of Bavaria on Tuesday.

Indian restaurant Gaggan in Bangkok named Asia's best for third year

Bangkok's Indian eatery Gaggan on Tuesday was named the best restaurant in Asia for the third consecutive year by Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.

HGK: 16 Croatian companies to exhibit at IDEX defence exhibition

Sixteen Croatian companies will exhibit their products at the 13th IDEX 2017 defence exhibition in Abu Dhabi, to be held on February 19-23.